Future of Arlington International Racecourse in Jeopardy

The historic Arlington International Racecourse could be seeing the end of live horse racing, at least according to one man. Races are scheduled to end on September 26, and there is some discussion about this being the final year of racing at the facility.

Churchill Downs Inc. owns the racecourse that is in Arlington Heights, Illinois, and they are interested in using the racecourse for a different purpose. Churchill Downs Inc. recently held their second-quarter earnings call, and the future of the racecourse was discussed.

Churchill Downs, Inc. CEO Bill Carstanjen announced during the call that his company does have meets scheduled in 2021, but they haven’t decided if those meets will take place. Carstanjen believes that the future of the racecourse serves a much different purpose than horse racing.

Arlington International Racecourse sits on a 336-acre parcel of land. It is unclear what the company would elect to do with the land, but it would be used for other developmental purposes.

Churchill Downs applied for horse racing dates in 2021, and the Illinois Racing Board is set to review their application on September 16. The proposed dates would see horse racing take place between May 9 and September 29, 2021, if Churchill Downs decides to keep the track open for business.

Plenty of Turmoil in 2020

Churchill Downs and the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association struggled to reach an agreement on purses for the 2020 race season, and there was a threat that the 2020 season would be canceled. Eventually, the two sides were able to reach a deal in June, but the original deadline was set for December 31.

These two sides have had a contentious relationship for years, and the Horsemen’s Association was not surprised to hear the comments from Churchill Downs CEO. The village of Arlington Heights was also expecting a similar announcement to be made, but they plan on fighting to keep the landmark open.

Tom Hayes, Mayor of Arlington Heights, announced that he plans on reaching out to Churchill Downs to see what they are envisioning with the racecourse. Arlington International Racecourse is the biggest employer in the village and is vital to the economy.

Even though different developments could bring in more revenue for the village, Arlington Heights doesn’t want to see racing come to an end. There has also been some talk of other groups making a bid to buy the racecourse, but only if a gaming license was a part of the deal.

Churchill Downs was given an opportunity to apply for a casino license last June when the state of Illinois expanded their gaming. The company stunned the Horsemen’s Association by not applying for one and losing out on additional revenue.

Churchill Downs Inc. instead acquired a majority stake in Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, and they did not want to have two competing casinos in the area.

No Sports Betting at Arlington.

Arlington International Racecourse applied for a sports betting license in March, and that application was still being reviewed by the Illinois Gaming Board. Even though the racecourse was hoping to offer sports betting, that will not be the case.

Carstanjen announced that Churchill Downs has no plans to offer sports betting at the racecourse. BetAmerica is the sportsbook that is owned by the company, and they have no plans to pursue a license in Illinois.

Churchill Downs will once again be leaning on their stake in Rivers Casino to get them into the sports betting scene in Illinois. Rivers Casino launched their “BetRivers” mobile app in June, and they are the leader in the industry up to this point in Illinois.


Rebecca lives in Las Vegas and after completing her degree at Reynolds Journalism school joined the USGS team to pursue her journalism dreams.